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Some physicians pay more for malpractice claims than others

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Chicago area residents are generally not aware of the situations that their medical providers have previously gotten into through the care that has been provided to other patients. It is not unheard of for a physician to have to defend themselves for their medical services, but the severities of those claims vary greatly.

In some circumstances, this may constitute grounds on which a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed and won. A new study shows the costs that physicians incur while defending these suits and who really pays for those costs in the end may be surprising.

Researchers examined approximately 27,000 malpractice claims made between the years of 1995 and 2005. More than 40,000 physicians were involved in these claims, each of them covered by a national liability insurer.

By examining these cases, researchers discovered that the costs to different types of physicians vary greatly. Cardiologists, for example, had an average cost of $83,000 while defending claims that ended in payment for the plaintiff. This was the highest amongst the types of physicians studied by the researchers. Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, average a cost of $24,000 for paid claims.

According to a co-author of the study, these bills are generated largely through research costs, attorney fees, expert witnesses and filing fees. The study indicated that the average cost of a medical malpractice claim to a physician, regardless if it is paid or unpaid, is $23,000. Those that are paid cost more to the physician simply because they take longer to defend, with many of these cases lasting more than two years.

A similar study was conducted by the same researchers in 2011. That year, they used the same data to compare the likelihood of a malpractice claim with the different specialties of physicians. To dig deeper into the data, the group decided to perform this study as well.

One of the major questions that this study has created concerns the higher costs to some specialties over others. The researchers believe that the answer is tied to the likelihood that a doctor may diagnose incorrectly, potentially leading to the death of the patient. That is why doctors that specialize in cancer and the heart are at the top of the list.

Even with higher costs, it seems that physicians may win in the end. A co-author of the study wrote that higher malpractice premiums and higher defense costs ultimately lead to higher physician fees, which means that patients are the ones paying for the claims that are brought against these doctors.

Source: U.S. News, "Doctors Detail High Costs of Fighting Malpractice Claims," Mary Brophy Marcus, April 4, 2012

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